Searge’s Top Five Games

What classics inspired Searge’s career in games?

Michael “Searge” Stoyke is Minecraft’s master of modding. The founder of the Mod Coder Pack project in his pre-Mojang days, he is now currently in the process of building an API for the game that will bring together developments like Add-Ons and Plug-Ins under one friendly infrastructure. The idea, eventually, is to bring something approaching the level of customisability you see on PC to all the Minecraft platforms. Pretty awesome.

But when Searge isn’t defining the future of Minecraft customisation, he’s lurking round a noticeably polygonal Hell’s Kitchen pretending to be a supercool conspiracy-squashing cyborg, or battling interstellar terror as an amnesiac soldier on an experimental starship.

Come on then, Searge, give us your Top Five!

1. System Shock 2

Released way back in 1999, creepy sci-fi RPG System Shock 2 was one of the games that defined a genre. Dubbed “Immersive Sims”, these games tried to combine the narrative immediacy of firstperson gaming with the sprawling systems of a simulation, allowing players to forge their own story by prodding and poking the world’s many variables. The influence of System Shock and its sequel can be felt to this day.

“The atmosphere is amazing in the game," says Searge. "In fact, it feels more like three games: when I played it the first time, I twice had this experience where I thought, ‘What an amazing game! Pity it’s over.’ And then the game kept on going in a new direction. It has all these interesting twists. It’s the only game apart from Minecraft that I’ve played loads and loads of.”

2. Deus Ex

Better known today than System Shock, though released only a year later, Deus Ex is widely held up as the big daddy of the “Immersive Sim”. A tale of conspiracy and intrigue in a near-future, Deus Ex set the bar for malleable storytelling, letting the player approach problems in all manner of ways, dramatically affecting relationships and events hours down the line.

Searge says: “It has this amazing combination of elements: it never takes the player by the hand, and it gives you the impression of influence on the story and the world, both large and small. I really appreciate the little things like being told off for going into the woman’s bathroom. And the other characters in the game will like you more or less depending on how you treat them. If you do something to upset them, you often have a harder time later in the game.”

3. Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

Sticking with the genre still, the overly punctuated V:TM-B is another landmark in freeform roleplaying. Released in 2004, it follows the player as she or he climbs the rungs of vampire society in a 21st century Los Angeles, choosing how to balance human morality with inhuman desires. The game varies hugely depending on which of the seven playable vampire clans you pick.

“Let’s just say, nobody really liked the bugs when it was released,” says Searge. “It was such a mess. But even today you get community patches released every few months. I want to try out all the vampire clans eventually. The problem is I always want to play Malkavian again. They are completely insane. And the devs were insane to create them - every line of dialogue is different in comparison to the other clans. The hardest clan to play as is Nosferatu because you can never allow yourself to be seen. It completely changes the dynamics of the game.”

4. Fallout 3

After two great 2D Fallout games in the late 90s, the post-apocalyptic RPG series fell into intellectual property limbo when budget cuts saw the closure of developer Black Isle Studios. Bethesda Softworks swooped in to snap up the series name, and, using the template of open world firstperson roleplaying they’d established with The Elder Scrolls titles, brought out Fallout 3 in 2008.

Searge says: “I was sceptical. Bethesda usually makes good games, but taking Fallout into 3D? How would that work? But it turned out to be amazing. The first time I played it was the most interesting to me, because I didn’t follow the main quest at all and just roamed the world freely - and it’s easy to lose track of the main story because the world is so full of detail. The second time played it, I tried the diplomatic approach, talking my way out of every encounter. I love games that are that versatile in how you can play them.”

5. Advance Wars

Turnbased strategy may well have been perfected by Advance Wars, released in the US in 2001. Whereas the strategy genre had tended towards the complex, trying to simulate military conflicts in ever greater detail, Advance Wars stripped everything back, making the collision of armies as readable and Rock Paper Scissors. And yet, as the action proceeds, and new complications are quietly introduced, the player ends up making deep strategic decisions - almost without noticing. It’s the ideal handheld game.

“There’s exactly one reason I own a GBA,” says Searge. “Advance Wars! The first and second game together make my fifth place. These are games I play over and over again. I bought the device for the game - which is quite a decision to make!”

But where’s Minecraft?! It’s okay, Searge hasn’t forgotten that it exists: “I consider that to be something that you can’t really put on a list like this,” he says. “I’ve been playing it constantly ever since I started six years ago. It’s more than a game really - it lives in parallel to other games I’m playing.”